on February 21, 2007
Adjoining the Basilica stands the cornerstone of temporal power in Venice - the Palazzo Ducale. The stunning pink-patterned building with its ornate arches was described by John Ruskin as "the central building of the world", and consider how many buildings of the 14th-century still survive that were not constructed by church or king, but by republic. Admittedly the republic was a place where, in Joe Strummer's words, "all the power's in the hands of the people rich enough to buy it". But then was it not ever thus?After nosing around the exterior of the palazzo (in particular check out the column moulding by the bridge depicting The Drunkenness of Noah), head into the palace. The central courtyard is dominated by the Scala dei Giganti. It was between Sansovino's brutish Mars and Neptune that a new doge would be crowned.Up the Scale d'Oro you will see lots of allegorical depiction (eg. depictions of Venus: in mythology Venus was born in Cyprus: the Venetians had just bullied the Cypriot queen into handing over the keys to her kingdom). The doge's apartments reveal the taste in interior decoration possessed by the rulers of the republic - mainly redesigning the fireplace mouldings so that they prominently display your own family crest (the equivalent of scrawling 'Mocenigo woz ere' over the plasterwork). Readers will probably be as fascinated as I with the Sala dello Scudo. Two huge ornate globes are displayed, and the walls are lined with maps of the world. Note the one of North America, its interior annotated with warnings of 'anthropopaghi' - cannibals. If you've ever visited Missouri you'll understand.Continue through the areas devoted to the power-making bodies (the Collegio and Senate) with their Veroneses and Tintorettos by the bucketload. In the armoury look for the horrific toothed chastity belt. The Sala del Maggior Consiglio is worth a long stop, dominated by a 77-year-old Tintoretto's 'Il Paradiso', the largest canvas painting in the world, containing over 500 figures. It is surmounted by a glowing Christ, Madonna, and Holy Dove. A beam of light is directed downwards towards the doge's throne. The angels and saints radiate out into the shadows, implying a diminution of God's radiance the further you are from Christ. The painting was chosen by competition, and there is an electronic screen where you can survey the candidates and vote for your favourites.In the legal chambers there are a couple of Heironymus Bosches with great little creations - booted legs, peacock tails and a spoonbill beak under a cowl. They reappear in a depiction of Hell by Il Civetta. The Inferno looks like quite a jolly place with a wide range of ingenious torments - being imprisoned in a giant bagpipe seems the cruelest!From the legal chambers it is down to the prison cells via the infamous Bridge of Sighs. Entry is free with a Venice card or Museum card (€11). They get busy, so go early - it opens at 9am.
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